What is a Watch Cap?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

A watch cap is a tight-fitting knit cap worn in cold weather, typically issued to navy personnel. It is usually brimless, but some models include a small front brim. Government issued versions are 100% wool, but other textiles may be used for commercial products. This type of hat is also a fairly simple knitting project, and you can find instructions on making your own at a fabric or craft store or online.

Some watch caps are made to fit the top of the head snugly, while others leave a bit of material loose on the top of the head.
Some watch caps are made to fit the top of the head snugly, while others leave a bit of material loose on the top of the head.

Watch caps are often made so that the bottom part is folded up, though it can be pulled down low over the ears. Alternatively, the cap may simply cover the head without being folded over; this is typically the case with watch caps featuring a brim or visor. Some models are made to fit the top of the head snugly, while others leave a bit of material loose on the top of the head.

A thick watch cap may be part of a cold weather clothing ensemble.
A thick watch cap may be part of a cold weather clothing ensemble.

Wool watch caps are considered the best quality, as well as the warmest, but they are often too hot to be worn indoors as a fashion statement. A watch cap is a good project for a beginning or experienced knitter, and you can use any color and fiber of yarn you like. If you are not up to making your own, there are many vendors who offer caps in custom colors or with personalized embroidery.

The look of the watch cap is most often associated with sailors, but the headgear is also popular among clubgoers and anyone who lives in cold areas. It is the unofficial national headgear of Canada, where it is called a tuque or toque. This garment has many other alternative names as well, including beanie, boggan, knit cap, knit hat, ski cap, ski capor, skull cap, skully, sock cap, stocking cap, and toboggan. In India, the watch cap is known as a monkey cap.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


@vogueknit17 - I have a stocking cap made out of wool and fleece, and it is great. It really combines the best of both worlds as far as I'm concerned.

Like the article and someone else mentioned, wool is by far the warmest material, but can start to get uncomfortable if it starts shifting around on your heat. I've had a couple of fleece watch caps, but they don't seem to block air flow very well. If you combine the two into one cap, though, you get great comfort with the maximum warmth.

I have also read about Thinsulate watch caps, as well. I don't know much about how Thinsulate works, but I know it is used in a lot of sleeping bags, so I'm guessing it gives a lot of warmth.


@Izzy78 - I'd say you are right. I have a lot of friends that actually own collections of caps to wear. I'm also with you with the different names.

Growing up on the Canadian border, we always called them tuques. It wasn't until I moved to the Midwest that everyone started called them beanies and stocking caps. In the office where I work we even have a kind of inside joke where we argue about what the real name for them is. After reading this, I think I'll have to introduce a couple more names into the mix.

At least in my opinion, the name depends on the exact style of the cap. Watch caps and stocking caps are the thicker wool hats like it talks about armed forces using. Beanies are the thinner, tighter-fitting cotton kinds, and skull caps are tighter and shorter and barely cover the ears if at all.


Even in climates that aren't cold, I think watch caps have turned into a kind of fashion statement. I have noticed over the last several years that tons of celebrities and younger people are wearing watch caps for fashion. I have never heard it called a watch cap, though. Growing up, we always called them stocking caps. It is interesting how there are so many names.

I also didn't realize that they were made out of so many different materials. When I used to wear them, they were all made out of wool. The problem with that is that the wool can really start to get itchy after a while. It seems like most of the ones I see nowadays are a different material. It looks like it is probably cotton or polyester.


@behaviourism - I agree. My mother just taught me how to knit a few weeks ago, and I decided that my first real project would be a watch cap. I think the really good thing about a project like this is that there are a ton of patterns online for making caps of different styles and sizes.

I plan on making mine the right size for my dad. He works outside a lot during the winter and is always needing a watch cap. I think once I get a little more experienced I will try a more difficult design. Besides having patterns readily available online, the knitting process is pretty straightforward and repetitive, so it is easy to work in different types of loops. I'd really like to try to make one that is different colors.


While watch caps are usually made out of knit or crochet wool, the increased popularity of this style in recent years means that there are now a lot of fleece watch caps, or wool with fleece lining, which add even more warmth.


It is very easy to knit or crochet watch caps and similar hats for wearing in cold weather. They can be a great first hat project for a beginner, and especially easy to churn out for more experienced knitters and crocheters.


A lot of army and navy sell types of military watch caps for people who want the "real thing" at a reasonable price, though in some cases still more expensive than other store bought watch caps.

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